Tyler Cowen: That talent is remarkably important. That we’re doing a poor job, misallocating talent. And there are a variety of ways, outlined in the book, we can do better. This book tries to be “the” talent book: a one-stop shopping guide to how to think about identifying talent.
Michael Chui: What are the macro implications of [the] lack of good matching? Is this a potential for accelerating productivity, for instance?
Tyler Cowen: We have slower economic growth when we don’t match talent well. We have a lower level of per capita income. When a recession comes, as was the case in 2008, labor markets adjust much more slowly. The consequences for human welfare are considerable.
Cowen cautioned that many technological advances would doubtlessly improve human welfare but still might not show up in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and productivity statistics. For example, the new plug-and-play vaccine platforms may well result in highly effective vaccines for malaria and HIV, and that would be a huge boon for millions of people living in poor countries, but those benefits would be unlikely to show up U.S. GDP per capita statistics. He also pointed out that the recent significant advances in green energy production are occurring chiefly as a way to avoid the possible catastrophe of man-made climate change. Because climate change is a hidden counterfactual, replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, and batteries would not necessarily lead people to feel as though their standard of living had risen.
Strain countered that the toll that infectious disease takes on the stunting of talents and skills in poor countries would be greatly ameliorated by rolling out cheap effective vaccines now made possible by messenger RNA technology. Over a longer time horizon, the U.S. and the rest of the world would significantly benefit from efflorescence of invention and entrepreneurship arising in regions whose development is held back by prevalent plagues.
First, wise public sector investments are better for the poor than one-time wealth transfers. The U.S. is still reaping the benefits of the great public health and public works achievements of the 20th century. Second, the most enduring and beneficial government-transfer programs, such as Social Security, have been built on sustainable majorities.
It’s not as if there aren’t obvious candidates for alternative investment: green energy, broadband and public health infrastructure for the next pandemic, to name a few. Yes, I am familiar with the argument that spending the extra trillion or so now will make it possible to spend more trillions later, including on such policies. But whatever kind of complicated political story you might tell, the basic laws of economics have not been repealed. Increasing current expenditures does, in fact, involve foregone future opportunities.